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Virtual Office Hours

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Any time scheduled outside of class for instructors and teaching assistants to meet with students about a course is typically referred to as "office hours". This time can be useful for providing additional feedback and practice to students.

Even for classes taught fully in person, offering an online option for office hours can lower the barrier to entry and may make students more likely to attend. 

Consider these strategies for running successful online office hours. 

Make online office hours consistent and accessible

Students may be more likely to attend office hours that are easy to arrange and access.

  • Hold open drop-in office hours that do not require appointments, when feasible.
  • Ask students for input on when to schedule office hours.
  • Schedule office hours on a repeating and regular schedule.
  • Post the link to your recurring office hours Zoom meeting in a prominent place in Canvas.

Leverage Zoom features to enhance online office hours

Zoom includes a number of useful features that can enhance your office hours sessions.

  • Encourage students to share their screen with you. Screen sharing is possible not just for the instructor in Zoom but for students also. Encourage students to show you their written work on their screen.
  • Use the Waiting Room feature in Zoom. Turn on your waiting room to keep a private space for students, the same way a student might wait outside your office if another student is already there. 
  • Breakout rooms can help you organize students into smaller groups, which may provide students with more opportunities to share their ideas. There are many ways you might structure breakout rooms to support student learning.
  • For group office hours or study sessions, record your Zoom office hour sessions and post the recording to the Canvas Course Videos tool. Remember to get input from students on whether they are comfortable being recorded or not. 

Use scheduling tools if by appointment

It may be appropriate to schedule office hours by appointment to accommodate a student, maintain privacy, or ensure equitable access. In such cases, consider these scheduling tools:

  • Scheduler/Appointment Tool in Canvas. Built into the Stanford Canvas Calendar tool, instructors can build appointment blocks that their students can sign up for. 
  • Embed a Google Doc/Sheet into the Canvas course site or include a link to the signup sheet in a Canvas Announcement
    Create an openly editable Google Document or Sheet with a table of available appointments for students to sign up for appointments. The link to edit the Doc or Sheet could be shared through an Announcement in Canvas or embedded in a Page or Module within Canvas.

Consider asynchronous strategies to supplement online office hours

Answering commonly asked questions asynchronously can benefit students who may not be able to attend office hours due to unforeseen circumstances, as well as reduce the time spent answering repeat questions during office hours. Consider these suggestions:

  • Use Canvas discussion forums, Ed Discussion, or Slack to answer common questions. Then refer students to posts when presented with repeat questions.
  • Collect questions from students prior to an office hours session using Poll Everywhere, a Canvas forum, or other tools to identify common questions.
  • Provide supplemental materials where feasible, or leverage students' efforts by taking notes on a shared Google document as a group.

Learn more